HC Deb 08 June 1993 vol 226 cc127-8
1. Mr. Connarty

To ask the Secretary of State for Health when she last met representatives of organisations providing residential drug and alcohol projects to discuss the change in community care.

7. Ms Eagle

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if she will review specific funding arrangements for services to drug and alcohol abusers.

The Minister for Health (Dr. Brian Mawhinney)

Representatives of organisations providing residential services for alcohol and drug misusers, and from local authority associations, last met my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and the then Under-Secretary of State for Health—my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo)—on 15 December 1992. We have undertaken to monitor the implementation of the new arrangements closely.

Mr. Connarty

I am grateful to the Minister and glad to hear that he has been meeting those organisations. Does he share my concern at the report in Care Weekly of 3 June that only £10 million has been identified by local authorities for use in respect of residential alcohol and drug cases? Had the sum been ring-fenced as the Government supplied it directly, it would have been £16.5 million. That means that there is a £6.5 million shortfall in funding for those vital services. Will the Minister do something to rectify the position?

Dr. Mawhinney

I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that the amounts were ring-fenced. He suggests that they should have been ring-fenced within a ring fence, which does not make a lot of sense. We have issued special guidance, which we drew up with the local government associations, telling local authorities that we attach a high priority to those groups. It is for local authorities individually to assess their needs and proceed accordingly.

Ms Eagle

The Minister will not need reminding of the link between drug misuse and the increased threat of HIV and AIDS infection. Does he agree that the shortfall in funding indentified by my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) has already increased anxiety about that? Would the Minister care to comment on the persistent rumour that the Government intend to announce—[HON. MEMBERS: "Another rumour."]

Another rumour. I want to give the Minister a chance to deny that rumour, if hon. Members will let me proceed. Would the Minister like to comment on the persistent rumour that the Government intend to end ring fencing for AIDS services in August next year, thus putting health at risk?

Dr. Mawhinney

Like the hon. Lady, we attach importance to the fight against drugs misuse. That is why this year we made more than £24 million available in connection with drugs misuse services—an increase of more than 20 per cent. on last year's figure. It is why we have allocated £19 million this year, which is a 10 per cent. increase for service development. It is why we have increased by 90 per cent. the amount of money that we have made available to fund the expansion of pharmacy-based needle exchange schemes. The hon. Lady will know that, in her own constituency, the Wirral drug prevention team is undertaking many activities, all of which are designed to reduce drugs misuse.

Mr. David Atkinson

Does my hon. Friend agree that the county councillors who were elected as social service representatives on 6 May should now be fully aware of the community care needs of the areas that they represent—including the needs of alcohol and drug addicts—and to whom the excellent voluntary organisations ought now to be making representations?

Dr. Mawhinney

My hon. Friend is, of course, absolutely right. Ultimately, it will not be the decisions of Ministers that are primarily addressed to the individual needs of alcohol and drug misusers but the decisions of those who have the legal responsibility—the local authorities.

Mr. Hinchliffe

The Minister now has sitting beside him the new Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis), who, in the past, has actively campaigned for the ring fencing of funds for drug and alcohol projects. I remind the Minister of some of the problems that are arising across the country as a direct result of the Government's about-turn on the ring fencing of funds for such projects. Many important projects are now faced with closure. There are people on the streets who have serious problems and cannot get help, there are allegations that at least one person has died as a direct result of the Government's policy. Will the Minister address the problem urgently and reinstate the original ring-fencing arrangements?

Dr. Mawhinney

What I will do is extend the hon. Gentleman's question to a welcome to the new Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis). The hon. Gentleman is aware that we have made much more money available for the implementation of care in the community than even he, in his wildest moments, fantasised that the Government would make available—£140 million more.

We have made that money available so that local authorities can undertake personal assessments of individual need and so shape services designed to meet those needs—some in residential homes and some in other ways. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will continue to support that broad principle with us.

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